On a roll after the success of The Boy who Kicked Pigs and He Had Hairy Hands, Kill the Beast return to Edinburgh with their new show Don’t Wake the Damp. It’s an all-action sci-fi romp, with the aesthetic of Blake’s Seven crossed with Power Rangers… but it’s coupled with a distinctly domestic setting, since the damp in question is rising in a council tower block.
The play opens with the all-singing, all-dancing title sequence of fictional 80s sci-fi series The Crystal Continuum. After meeting its cast – Captain Charismo, his female sidekick Boobs (don’t worry, it’s ironic), robot Fusspot and their nemesis Nightvoid – we learn its unforgettable classic catchphrase, “Crystal Power – Crystallise!”. But soon we switch to the more prosaic surroundings of council housing in 2035, where we’re introduced to the key characters who neatly double the stars of the show.
A sinister council official is trying to evict the block’s tenants, ostensibly to protect them from the rising damp. A lot of comic horror is wrung out of this concept, turning it into “The Damp is Rising” – which would make a perfectly serviceable title for a Doctor Who episode. Terry is having problems with a few hold-outs: the resident macho man, the Crystal Continuum fangirl, and the mysterious irascible older lady, Juniper Berry. Who is she? And what is the secret from her past?
As the tenants join together to tackle the encroaching menace, a classic TV sci-fi plot plays out. The 80s aesthetic is cleverly realised in costume, projection and music – and particularly in the songs, with their cheesy lyrics and action sequences. But less positive aspects of the decade are also referenced, most notably through the ever-present casual sexism of a sidekick named Boobs. The sexism and ageism are sent-up and satirised, allowing the outrageous jokes and sentiments to be hung out to dry, and getting laughs from their ridiculousness.
A simple set of three angular screens is moved together and apart, while projection onto them creates the backdrop for each scene. The screens are moved elegantly, with the minimum of fuss, and they always hit their mark precisely; there’s never any sense that the projection is missing its target. That’s no mean feat, in a show where all the performers appear to be moving all the time.
The whole effect is enjoyable – but while there are some cracking lines, there could be more genuine belly laughs. The dialogue needs to reach the same crispness as the physical movement, and it sometimes fails to make the most of the obscure comic similes. Being a pedant, I also can’t resist pointing out a slight problem with the internal logic: they joke about lack of success of The Crystal Continuum, yet refer to iconic episode number 122, which would seem to suggest a fairly long run.
Overall though, this is a very entertaining 75 minutes that you’d struggle not to enjoy. It’s recommended for the over-12s, but I know a ten-year-old who would love it – and unless your kids would be frightened by flashing lights and loud music in the dark, I’d suggest this is great fun for everyone.